It’s a long one ….

It has taken me most of today to get over the nerves and excitement from yesterday.  Unless you work in the industry you cannot imagine the amount of work that goes into getting that show on stage. It started off being a very late one the night before battling the clock trying to get a programme together to give to guests. I eventually put the lap top down at 2am and then lay thinking about all the things that could go wrong. I’m anxious all the time anyway but this week i’ve been hyper aware of it.

Alarm went off at 6am and I hammered away at it only pausing to get Reilly off to school. 10.20 I hit send and prayed my friend at Sploshh could print it in time (straight opposite Northern Stage so terribly handy).

Into the bathroom and there’s my toothbrush accompanied by a something I’d rather not talk about that certainly didn’t belong to me. Irretrievable. What a start.

I’ll spare you the details of the inbetween things that went wrong like the allergic reaction to my handbag and the urgent antihistamines. Back to the play.

The Life of Reilly play is blessed with being an incredible set of cast and crew.  When I say crew I include the parents of the girls.  They are there for every rehearsal and help out as much as anyone on the day.  That in turn means their families must readjust for their other children etc and we are eternally grateful. There’s always an emergency pair of American Tan tights to run for for Grandma Mary and in this case a single duvet and some fairy lights.

It was really exciting for everyone for the cast to meet Paul, Nicky & Hannah (and Dani later on) from TryLife for the first time. There to start documenting the rise of Life of Reilly. Interviews, candid shots and all round greatness. Also Kieran Rose The Autistic Advocate who has been an absolute godsend giving brutal honesty on the things he has loved or loathed about the production. We have taken every piece of advice on board and it has helped the play evolve over the last year into something really special.

From arranging vans and drivers, learning scripts, techs, lighting, props, tickets, guests it’s pretty exhausting.

Yesterdays show was by invite only at Northern Stage.  Some of the regions top business/industry men and women. There were canapés (Thank you McKennas) and bubbles on arrival and the whole thing made me stand back and admire what the play has become.  I admit seeing Ian Whyte from Game of Thrones got me incredibly excited as many will tell you i’m a little bit obsessed.  I tried for spoilers for the finale but sadly I didn’t get any, I found it highly amusing that when the photographer from Luxe Magazine cane along I was dressed with makeup on and Alison was in costume (she’s usually super glam with sparkly nails and immaculate hair etc) leggings, T-shirt with Nutella on, no make up and her hair in a pony tail. She’ll suffer for her art though 😂. Also an absolute pleasure to meet was Kim Tserkezie. Anyone who has kids will know her from Balamory. A very talented lady passionate about diversity in media. We were honoured she came along.

As guests began to gather I’d catch glimpses of myself chatting and hosting and think who the hell is this imposter. How on earth is she standing there when her knees are weak and she wants to run.

The call to take seats came and I headed down to the green room to work on my speech for free the play. I could probably tell you the script word for word I’ve seen it and read it that many times. I knew what they were laughing at without seeing the gesture or hearing the words. I knew the cast would smash it. I was nervous nonetheless.

2 cups of tea and some deep breathing I’d something that resembled a speech. Half time break and the cast came to join me. Alison still tearstained from reading the poem ”My boy and me’ what I can only describe as someone standing on my heart when I hear it onstage.

There’s a brilliant bond between everyone in the show. I watched the girls doing each other’s hair completely at ease with each other and it made me think they are forming friendships that will last. Just as the parents have. Great things happening on and off stage.

I braved the second half to watch from the wings. The laughs were loud and the sobs were heavy. The cast 200% knocked it out of the park. They were brilliant! I’m not biased – there’s are many reviews that will tell you the same thing. This play is worthy of ANY stage and should be seen on every stage.

Crap they’ve done their bows. Standing ovation, rapturous applause. It’s my turn.

I totter our and almost fall into the stage after tripping on the curtain. Just what I wanted.

I introduce myself as Christine Stephenson writer of this blog. I tell the audience about the horrific stats that accompany autistic kids/adults. Dire mental health services. Struggles, fights, trials and triumphs and also why it is crucial we make the film. I nearly cried. My voice wobbled but I pulled it back. I’m just desperate you see for everyone to understand.

Paul took to the stage to talk about TryLife from Howdon to Hollywood. How he got into filmmaking from working in youth services and certainly held everyone’s attention. The introduction to these guys is what will make this film stand out in the crowd. The vision for it is off the scale. I see awards and why the hell not.

Finally Rob Armstrong stood to address the guests and gave them a little insight into why he loves the project and why everyone should get behind us and make it happen. The Armstrong’s kickstarted our find with a 10k donation! Rob is a huge supporter of Hadrian School in Newcastle’s West End. An incredible school which caters for the needs of pupils aged between two and eleven years with a range of additional needs including complex, severe learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning difficulties. He and Bev get it.

Many guests pledged to sponsor a page of the film script (example below). An innovative way to raise some funds for us and you never know it may be worth a small fortune when those BAFTAS roll in.

The Hilton gave is an incredible prize of an overnight stay, drinks, spa, dinner, tickets to see Marvel, transport etc which raised £765! They also donated the bottles of bubbly. Big Thankyou Lynn, Janet, Toni and the lady who I didn’t catch her name (shameful) for selling tickets and being such an enormous help.

All in all I great success. If you were lucky enough to be invited I thankyou from the bottom of my heart for the love and support we have received since. I know it resonated with many. The characters and scenarios can be identified with so easily when you live The Life of Reilly in your own home. It’s time for change.

Alison who plays Joanne and who is also the writer is up for a culture award on Thursday which in itself to be a finalist is outstanding! then we have our ball on 1st June (ask me about last remaining table or 2) so not quite ready to relax for a second.

What a journey. Stress and laughter our guides.

Alison Stanley , Kelly Best – We’ve got this! Xx

#TryLifeofReilly

If you would like to support us with sponsorship or anything else please see the funding page attached. (There are offline donations to be added to this).

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-life-of-reilly-autism-film

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That’s a wrap!

Had such a good week. Since Sunday we’ve pretty much worked on The Life of Reilly short non stop. I feel pretty emotional about it and cannot wait to see the finished result.

Deciding to push ahead with making the film was a no brainer for me. This blog has provided much enlightenment and entertainment over the past 2 years if the feedback I’ve received is correct. We have a lot of eyes on The Life of Reilly and it just seemed such a great opportunity to spread our wings and reach a bigger audience.

I put my hands up now and say I had no idea how much work goes into making a film. After all what more can you need than the actors, a camera and someone in charge. Pffft I’ll tell you what you need. Locations, actors, scripts (John Hickman), cameras, lights, mics, sound equipment, smoke machines, props, cars, food, runners, directors, makeup, hair, green room, paperwork, drone, chaperone …. need I go on ? These people worked HARD. Local heartthrob Andy Mills played a blinder as the miserable taxi driver and Scott Ritchie in his dressing gown our nosey neighbour. Just brilliant. The actual neighbours on location too not one complaint about the madness over the last few days and even a borrow of someone’s front door. That’s Annitsford for you, all rooting for Reilly and helping us along the way.

Charlie Price from Manchester plays Reilly. He is the most adorable lad. Professional is an understatement. He knew about autism and was so keen to meet Reilly in real life. The days start early and are long, I found it difficult never mind being the ripe old age of 7. He loves it though. Loves meeting people and acting, he’s awesome just like his Mum Andrea. I believe things happen for a reason more often than not and I’m grateful this lovely family have come into my life. Andrea cried with me at some of the scenes and had really thought about the relationship between myself and Reilly. Charlie told her the first night that he loved her and she got upset that I’d never heard that, almost guilty. I’d love to hear it, I hope I do, maybe I won’t but I know it. It’s in every cuddle and stroke of my face.

Stephen Woods the director and his team Jamie, Chas, Ryan, Charlie, Jake, Cal, Marni, Chase & Sophie from Act2Cam have blown me away. I advised a lot on set and got to see them in action. The work that goes into getting these shots just right is incredible, it’s creative, it’s frustrating, it’s their passion. No second bests.

Now Alison Stanley who you will know from writing the stage play and playing Mam Joanne in The Life of Reilly has knocked it out the park. She has looked as rough as a badger for 3 days in her pjs, messy hair, no shoes or makeup. The polar opposite of how you see her on a normal day with her lovely nails and immaculate hair. Real minger this week. She’s spent hours sitting outside in no shoes or coat shooting scenes. She’s cried, she’s laughed, she became her character Joanne. It was awesome to watch. Alison has felt the frustration of having her own son failed exactly the same as some of the scenes she acted so well. She’s been there. She nailed it.

Crissy Rock what can I say. You amazing woman. You’ve made me laugh and cry. I’ve learned just how much more there is to this incredible lady. Talented with a massive heart can’t wait to meet up again.

It’s important to me that autistic people act and crew on this project and that is something we will be sticking with in the feature. The feature will see Reilly grow into a young man and we’ll see some of the difficulties thrown in his way, the failings and misunderstandings but you’ll also see the love of his family, his achievements, his awesomeness.

All I can do is thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for contributing to this project. We can make changes to attitudes by teaching empathy and understanding. A glimpse at what happens behind closed doors is sometimes all it takes. We’ve opened that door a little to you all.

I’m asked constantly what happens now. The film has to be edited and then we will have a premiere at the Tyneside Cinema with some guest speakers in June. We will enter it to short film festivals and more importantly we will use it to dangle the carrot for funding and hopefully commissioning a feature length. You will not find anyone more driven than Alphabetically Autistic (myself, Alison & Kelly) to make it happen.

I have special thanks to my little pal Lisa Bewick who signed up to let us have her home for 1 day originally and that turned into 4! Not many would have been as cool but thank god you’re Team Reilly and can see the bigger picture. Elaine and Stevie from The Bridge Inn Annitsford opened every morning before the birds were up to ale sure we had a green room and were fed and watered. Above and beyond, amazing food, amazing hospitality that won’t be forgotten xx and last but not least Ken & Pat who have looked after the real Reilly and brother Ellis xx

The Life of Reilly Film

I was in a meeting this week to talk about turning The Life of Reilly into a screenplay.  At first it sounds impossible but the more I learn and investigate the more I think there is a really good chance of it becoming a reality.

I had no idea how much money would be required or what it would entail.  My good friend Steve who plays Ged Reilly’s Dad in the play has a Act2Cam film school and is well connected in the industry and Alison Stanley who wrote The Life of Reilly play already has the film mapped out in her mind and in her notebook.

To dangle the carrot to distributors etc there must be a 10 minute high quality pilot professionally made.  This involves bringing in scriptwriters, a producer, a director and casting.  The scene used for the pilot will most likely be the explosive showdown between Reilly’s Mam and the local council about school transport.  We’ve all been there and can relate. I think, not that i’m an expert, that it will in a snapshot capture the everyday stresses we face.  Handing you most precious belonging over to a complete stranger, trusting them to care for your child and your child not able to relate to you whether they like this person, whether they feel safe or threatened with them is the hardest thing i’ve had to do.

I wish people knew how we truly live.  A minefield of marital disagreements bore from stress over money and time misspent, from a cocktail of sleep deprivation and anxiety, from a fear for their future that gathers a permanent black cloud of uncertainty.  The battles we have, the books we must read, the dossiers of papers we amass hi-lighting every single thing your child is ‘failing’ at to reach an unnecessary milestone to achieve a vital tick in a box to notch up the score on the SEN school lottery.  All this when all we want to do is celebrate their achievements no matter how small.  All this just to get our children to the school and the education they have every right to.

People leave the play touched by what they have seen.  It changes their perspective about autism family dynamics and I like to hope that their new found realisations are shared with friends, families and acquaintances drumming down judgement from the lookers on.   A film on TV could do so much.  NT actors working alongside autistic actors and consultants is a dream. No flowering it up just telling it like it is in all its glorious sometimes heartbreaking detail.

Please if you can support this project, click the link below.  I trust the professionals who are already lining up to do  this pilot and hopefully full length film the justice and the air time it deserves.

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-life-of-reilly-film-pilot-1
https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FBBCLN%2Fvideos%2F1538043862943362%2F&show_text=0&width=476

The Life of Reilly – Missed it? You missed out!

Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve ever had. You don’t hear that from me very often. The Life of Reilly play was on at The Northern Stage one of my favourite theatres. It was sold out completely and in hindsight we should have booked 2 nights.

Alison picked me up at 9am to take the props to the theatre. It’s not a big grand set, it’s actually an eclectic mix of household items pulled together to look like a well lived in family home with its assortment of discarded toys, washing and the odd bra.

I loved lurking around behind the scenes.  I did NOT love having to play Reilly’s part in the tech and rehearsals.  Standing under the spotlight reading out these lines to an empty theatre in my usual squeaky, irritating tone.  How do they do it?  Give me tonsilitus any day over acting.  I sat on a marshmallow teacake ready for the party scene, stood on another and trailed it around the perfectly painted pitch black floor. Page 28 of the script stuck to said marshmallow on shoe and followed us.  Awful.  I’ll stick to being bossy and irritating.  I did serve my purpose though and it was quite exciting despite epic cringe levels.

It’s old hat for Alison. Her last play Bedsock’s and Secrets about dementia was outstanding. It had a spell at the Edinburgh fringe as well as many theatre’s and was eventually snapped up by the NHS trust to be used as a training tool. She’s super-talented and has done an exceptional job here with The Life of Reilly – writing, producing and acting.  You know from the opening seconds that it’s been written by someone in the know and that just continues to gather substance throughout.  Real scenarios experienced by real people.  I have to admit I love the numerous ‘meetings’ between myself, Kelly and Alison discussing funny, heartbreaking, sad, happy; incredible things that have happened between us over a traditional breakfast (I’m sometimes Farmhouse because I’m greedy).  Autism Mama’s who get it, who live it and want you to get it too.

I love sitting in the audience watching peoples reactions to the play.  There is always tears, there is always some swearing (just a little bit), there is always laughter and there is always a standing ovation (I know it’s just the second time it’s been done shhhhhh).  The tech guys even had a tear at the back of the house.

Now i’m not being biased.  If I had seen this produced by any other company I would give it the best review and the highest star rating simply because the acting is brilliant, it is an accurate portrayal of many of our lives (see ‘Joanne’ politely discussing the school transport issue with the Council)  We’ve all done it.  The characters are lovable even the old bag Granny Mary and it educates most importantly.

Between acts 1 & 2 I talked to people to gather their thoughts.  They were blown away.  I talked to a lady sat on her own at the back who had bought the last ticket.  That lady was a GP on the Northern Stage’s mailing list and on seeing the content thought she SHOULD see it and I agree.  Every GP, teacher, police officer, nurse, therapist, social worker, teaching assistant, sibling, grandparent – you see where i’m going with this.

It’s a small cast and it works perfectly.

We have Kris Roberts who plays Reilly.  

Kris plays it so well you can feel his struggle and vulnerability as a child but his humour shines through in just the right places.

Alison Stanley plays Joanne Reilly’s Mam.  

Fierce, reads everything, challenges everyone and takes no shit.  Joanne is me, Joanne is every Mam that knows what an EHCP is, Joanne is every Mam that lies awake at night wondering what happens when she dies.

Steve Woods from Act2Cam plays Ged Reilly’s Dad.

Ex military turned doorman who fears he isn’t good enough and keeps his fears and emotions bottled in.  His parts break my heart in two.  If you know Steve you know why.

Marce Gaygaskell plays Granny Mary.  

Sarcastic, blunt without an ounce of empathy.  I find her parts hilarious and she has some of my favourite one liners.

Warren Simpson plays Clarkey Geds best friend and fellow doorman.

Tries his best and puts his foot in it everytime its open.  Prone to the odd swear word, a can of red stripe and a pizza.

and then there is Scott Ritchie.  

We auditioned for an actually autistic actor to play Reilly’s friend Craig, we did that because it makes sense and because well we scream for inclusion yet hadn’t included ourselves, the cast have learned from him and his opinion has been invaluable.  He did an amazing job of which he should be extremely proud.  I would not, could not have the courage to stand on that stage and lay bare how being autistic makes him feel.  How he feels it through the fibres in his clothes, on his skin, to the bones.  Scott even had some amazing video messages of encouragement from amazing actors Morven Christie, Richard Mylan, and Kacey Ainsworth.

I know Alison will be looking to work on more projects with actually autistic people – there’s some incredible talent there.

Their characters progress throughout the performance with understanding and acceptance that their lives are the same but different and you will love them all, including Granny Mary.

When the play ended there was a standing ovation which was truly deserved.  I feel like the audience really feel like they’ve been on the same journey.  To be fair a lot of the audience already have or are going through it now.

So we love it, the audience loves it, the guys at the Northern Stage loved it so it would be only fair that it happens all over again.  Please watch this space for the next date.  You will not be disappointed and I will guarantee you will learn something.

Autism isn’t going anywhere.  Why should autistic people have to take years to learn to adapt to fit in what is perceived to be typical. To surpress how they want to express for fear of  persecution because it’s not ‘normal’.  WTF is ‘normal’ anyway.  Understand it and be more accommodating as humans.

Proud to be a part of it all and thankful I have these people in my life.  xx

 

 

 

 

Batten down the hatches

What on earth have I let myself in for?  I thought when I started the blog that I would prick a few ears up and stop some of the Judge Judy’s in our local shopping centre shooting the death stare at myself and other parents struggling to keep their cool under a the gaze of an impending meltdown.  Safe to say I think thats happened.  I have been stopped in shops by people I do not know who recognise Reilly and tell me how much they love the blog and how its changed their opinion on what they thought were naughty kids and lazy parents.

Result!

I have been invited to schools to talk to other parents about The Life of Reilly which I cannot wait to get cracking with and now I am one of three Directors of Alphabetically Autistic.  How the hell did that happen?  I mean I was busy before, really busy!  I am one half of a very successful charity North East Hearts with Goals, that is more than a full time job but its saving lives and keeping our communities safe so I won’t be stopping that, I need Harry Potter’s time turner if anyone has a spare?  For the first time in my life I am going to have to apply some organisation in my life.

 I’m a professional winger, thats wing not winge.  I’m never prepared but I always manage somehow.  My home is the same there is never a pair of socks available and if you ask me where my passport is I couldn’t tell you.  So embracing this is going to be a challenge but I challenge I embrace wholeheartedly.

I’ve said it before I’m no writer – I got a D in English and C in French so go figure but I love writing this blog and will continue to do so as long as I can.  I’m writing this one still in my PJs  and watching Love Island on catch up on the Ipad, its not ideal but it’s how I like it.  We announced Alphabetically Autistic this week and the response has been tremendous I am truly looking forward to trying to make a difference to our autistic families, one thing for sure it is a family.  Nobody understands you like another parent of an autistic person.

The Life of Reilly will have its first showing in November.  First stop The Exchange in North Shields last stop Broadway?  Who knows whats around the corner I don’t but i’m looking forward to finding out.  Im really looking forward to seeing Glenn McCrory treading the boards as Reilly’s dad.

There’s a moral to this post and it is if you aren’t happy with something, get up and do something.  No one will hear you unless you make some noise.

ps Watch out restaurants because i’m not happy with the choice of dairy free food on your menus haha 🙂 

Please support us where you can.  Share our information, encourage people to get in contact come and see the play.  For more information or if you would like to reserve some tickets for The Life of Reilly please drop me an email at alphaautistic@gmail.com let’s make sure the first showing is packed.

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